Florida's tournament experience is bigger in Texas

The Gators' logo appears on Cowboys Stadium's 160-foot- wide screen during a practice session on Thursday in Arlington, Texas.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 10:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 10:01 p.m.


Friday's game

Who: No. 3 seed Florida Gators (28-7) vs. No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (26-10)
When: 10:07 p.m.
Where: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Gainesville-area TV: TBS
Gainesville-area radio: 103.7 FM

ARLINGTON, Texas — When Mike Rosario jumped on Patric Young's back for a ride to the practice court Thursday afternoon, it meant more than just carrying him a few steps. There were stairs to climb. At Cowboys Stadium, the basketball floor has been raised 3 1/2 feet above the regular floor. The media sitting courtside will have a bird's-eye view of the players' ankles. For the players, the venue simply adds to the excitement of the moment. Here at the first NCAA Tournament basketball game staged at the stadium, players and coaches are shuttled through the bowels of the stadium in golf carts. That's how big it is. “It's the biggest thing I've seen,” said Florida's Casey Prather. “It took us 10 minutes just to walk from our bus to the entrance.”

It wouldn't be difficult to get lost in the belly of the beast. One member of the media likened his trip to the bathroom as being like that scene in “This Is Spinal Tap” where the band can't find their way to the stage. This weekend's regional semifinals and finals are a dress rehearsal for the Final Four next year. Make no mistake about it, this is a football stadium that has been adjusted to become a basketball arena. There are 16,000 lower-level seats (which are owned by the NCAA) that have been fit over the field-level football seats and run to the court. The capacity for basketball is listed at 42,614, but curtains covering some of the seating could be removed if there was a ticket demand. The record for the $1.2 billion stadium is 105,121 for the Dallas opener. Unlike many big stadiums that host basketball tournaments, the court is situated directly in the middle of the stadium. That means the enormous scoreboard hanging from the ceiling is directly above the court. But you don't have to worry about players making a big play and then looking up to see it on the giant screen. It's actually longer than the court. “Even if you make big plays, it's hard to get a good angle on that TV,” said Chase Fieler of Florida Gulf Coast. “You have to stand right on the edge. We'll have to run more towards the sideline to see it.” Any time a game is played in a big stadium like this, coaches have to worry about the background and line of sight. A team like Florida, which relies so much on 3-point shooting, could be affected by the space between the basket and the next solid object. “We're playing on a court where the rims are the same and the court is the same,” said Florida freshman Michael Frazier II. “What happens outside of it doesn't matter.” Florida was certainly a loose bunch as it went through a short workout at the stadium. Donovan's message to the team has been simple throughout this process. It doesn't matter who they play or where they play or where the other team is seeded. Focus on Florida. “Nowadays these guys are so used to playing in these bigger venues,” Donovan said. “For a lot of years, the SEC Tournament was held in the Georgia Dome. It's great we get to go out there and shoot around and get familiar with it. But probably for every team playing, it's a different and unique situation.” For the four teams here, playing in what people refer to as “Jerry's World” after Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will be something they won't forget. Trey Burke, the guard from Michigan, which plays Kansas in the night's first game, was snapping pictures of the venue during practice. “Who wouldn't take pictures coming out and playing in this stadium?” Burke said. “It's an opportunity a lot of people don't have.”

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